Sincere Differences Discussed Sincerely

A long-time good friend and I are having an ongoing cyberspace discussion about a controversial social issue; our opinions are polar opposites. We both are Christians but he’s pretty conservative and I am not. We both are smart, articulate and thoughtful. And we both love each other. imagesI’m guessing neither one of us will change our mind, but – as he says – we are discussing our sincere differences sincerely. And we both are better for it.

I know where he’s coming from because I used to believe pretty much the same way. I’ve made similar arguments; I’ve had similar concerns. We’ve both grown and changed since we were so close, but we’ve grown and changed in different directions. Such is the human journey. Such is the way of relationships.

But for us, relationship is the key; being friends is more important to us than being right (but of course, we both think we are right!) I am grateful this friendship means as much to him as it does to me because I have other conservative friends who have broken off their relationships; they unfriended me on Facebook a long time ago. It’s like some people are so committed to a particular (peculiar) kind of integrity that agreeing to disagree somehow compromises their core ethics. They seem to believe their sworn duty is to fix me, to change me and if they can’t do that, then we can’t be friends. This belief system makes me immensely sad because it contributes to alienation and estrangement throughout the human community. Friends, families, governments… minds set in stone, conversation in talking points, assassinating character and impugning integrity, listening just enough to misunderstand…

I admit I don’t have these kinds of probing conversations with very many of my conservative friends; most of us agree to disagree and then agree not to talk about it. But this friend is precious. Authentic community between human beings is always precious, but when we make a real effort to build community, when it calls for an extra dose of patience and understanding and respect and compassion – that kind of relationship is rare and beautiful and precious.

Our current American civilization is not very civil these days. There are deep divides that separate us; strong differences of opinion that keep pushing us farther and farther apart. But I think it’s not the divides and the differences themselves that are the problem. We’ve always had our differences and when we’re smart, we recognize that our diversity is part of our strength. No, I don’t think it’s our differences that are the problem; I think it’s the fear.

In a recent interview, Stephen Colbert, a well known Roman Catholic, was asked which is his favorite Bible verse: “Do not worry about your life…” he quickly replied. And “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” In order to stay mindful, Stephen believes, one cannot live in fear. It’s a little like comedy, he explains: You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.

“You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.”

There are plenty of things in our lives, in our world that justifiably cause anxiety. Stephen Colbert knows that as well or better than must of us. But we’re not going to solve any of our problems if we can’t talk to each other, if we don’t participate in honest conversation and collaborate in creative dreaming. We can’t hope to find our common connections if we don’t discuss our sincere differences sincerely. bridge-buildingWe can’t build bridges of cooperation if we don’t come together across the deep divides. We can’t live if we don’t laugh and love.

I’m not sure this will ever happen on Facebook – even though I volunteer for Coffee Party USA and I have high hopes that more and more people will commit to civil public conversation around controversial issues. But I do believe we can build these bridges one relationship at a time. “Anthropology trumps ideology,” another friend likes to say. When I really get to know a person – who they are, where they come from, what they value; when I really grow to love a person – then my dogmas become less rigid and my boundaries become more porous. One friend, one family member, one co-worker who sees the world differently can be a great resource for expanding our understanding. One person’s effort to listen and learn from another (especially one who has been “the other”) can erode fear and cultivate love and laughter.

You may say I’m a dreamer.

But I’m not the only one.


Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She frequentlyIntersections logo shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.


Colbert Catechism: Stephen Colbert Professes His Faith to Fr. James Martin

9 thoughts on “Sincere Differences Discussed Sincerely

  1. I attended a family reunion this summer in Atlanta. I hadn’t been there in 20 years, so there were many that were small children or not even born at my last visit. Getting to know so many, and the intense family coherence that they exemplify, was enormously exhillarating. Some conversation were begun and a subset continued in social media. And therein lies what may be a core problem, at least for me.
    One of my cousins thinks of himself as conservative, which would normally not be a problem. I’m an independent because I have a core that is based in the mid ’50s and does not allow me to get excited by things that seem to me to be reckless adventurism, but back in the ’60s was considered in league with the “commie pinko faggots”. So, independent, it is.
    The point is that conversations with people who hold opinions different from mine, have never been difficult. But one of my “new” cousins hit me on FB with a series of statements that felt as if they had been taken verbatim from a list of right wing talking points. It wasn’t the first time, but it uncharacteristically hit a nerve that proved to be laming. It was so laming that I couldn’t converse any further and felt com pelled to say so. I imagined him looking perplexed at is screen and wondering what happened. But I couldn’t responed.
    After some reflection, I discovered that I was furious, really furious, and unable to prevent the emotional reaction from completely taking over. My silence transported something to the outside, but the rage stopped at my keyboard! I couldn’t respond without striking out, so I stopped. That will eventually have to be dealt with, but it is taking a long time to calm down enough.
    In retrospect, I had taken the abject lack of empathy surprisingly personally. So surprisingly, that I was also shocked at myself. My first suspicion was that I was feeling in proxy for friends who come from the Middle East then, remembering my childhood in urban New Jersey, where the constant parade of “community leaders” and the embarrasment that I felt at their misrepresentations of myself and my . . . people.
    There it is. Personal relationships under attack from within. Embarrasment and rage in a laming mix. Now I know. What’s needed now, is a way to reopen conversation.

  2. I found your article to be profound and thoughtful. Fear is irrational; conversation leads to understanding. Notice I did not say agreement, but understanding. Talking with another person develops relationship and this can lead to peaceful co-existence. This is much better than picking up a gun and going after those we disagree with.

  3. You are not a dreamer Charlotte. You are making it happen. This is a wonderful piece. Your Conservative friend is the kind of Conservative that we need as a bridge to other Conservatives. He can show them it is safe to engage. I’ve had so many of those experiences in my Dark Red Conservative community.

    1. I like what you are doing to build community as well, Egberto. It takes all of us. Thanks for reading, for commenting and for being my friend.

      1. Charlotte, I am featuring your article in the Coffee Party USA newsletter. I will be out tomorrow. As you know, this is the spirit of dialogue we promote.

  4. BEAUTIFUL words, Charlotte. I believe them with all my heart. I have facebook friends – from jr. high and high school, from students I’ve taught, from current friends. They sometimes say words that fall like burning oil on my head, but I do not defriend them. Conversation is everything – it makes us human in the very best sense. I thank you so much for your word!

    1. Thanks for your commitment to community, Karen! More and more of us, more and more often. We can’t give up.

  5. It is interesting how much kinder we can be with one another as we learn to listen to each other’s thoughts and reasoning. Lincoln is quoted as saying, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

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